Monday, April 15, 2019

The Contest



                                                               The  Contest
                                                   By Valerie L. Egar
Many years ago in a mountain kingdom that bordered the sea, the Queen decided to hold a contest, asking the finest weavers to create tapestries that captured the Kingdom’s beauty. The Queen knew the blue mountains to the North, the western shining sea, the forests in the East and lush farms in the South would inspire artists. She looked forward to seeing their creations.
The Queen decreed that the tapestries would hang in the Royal Museum and the artists would be honored. Judges would select one tapestry as the best and she would award the artist a generous prize. The artists had one year to design and weave the tapestries.
 Most artists liked the idea at first, but gave up after a few weeks. They had other projects to attend, without spending month after month weaving. A few others started, but soon grew dissatisfied with the results and stopped. After six months, only two weavers remained at the task, a quiet red-haired woman named Niomi and a shy woman named Rhianna.
Every morning, Niomi walked for hours before she started working. She splashed in lake water and watched the way the sun sparkled on the waves. She picked wildflowers to decorate her studio and filled her pockets with smooth rocks
and white feathers she found. Some days she climbed trees and sat in the branches, looking at clouds.
When she was done wandering, she sat at her loom and worked, thinking of the marvelous things she had seen. On days it was breezy, the wool she wove into the tapestry was light and joyful. A mourning dove’s song became a small streak of grey in the meadow. The love she felt for the earth became dappled sunlight breaking through tree leaves. Every day she wove what she saw and heard into the tapestry.
From the day Rhianna learned of the contest, she didn’t move from her studio. She set her heart on creating the largest, most perfect and beautiful tapestry anyone had ever seen. She set seven mirrors around her room to reflect what was outside. Every day she looked into the mirrors and copied what she saw.
Rhianna was meticulous, matching the blue of the sky and the white of every wisp of cloud in perfect tiny threads. Every knot was neatly tied, every color true. For eleven months, she worked dawn to dusk, stopping only to quickly eat and sleeping only when it grew too dark to see.
At the end of the year, both women travelled to the Royal Museum and presented their tapestries. The tapestries were hung for judging. How different they were!
Both were large and covered a wall. Niomi’s was uneven in texture, some wool thick, other wool thin, some weaving tight, other parts loose.  The colors shimmered and the tapestry seemed to pulse with sound. The judges heard bird song and cicadas, the wind rustling in branches when they looked at it.
“But it’s not very neat,” one of the judges commented.
“The edges are uneven,” offered another.
The hours Rhianna put into her tapestry showed. It was beautiful, perfectly executed. Like Niomi’s, the colors shimmered. Everything  Rihanna viewed in the mirrors— trees, the ocean, clouds, flying birds— were reproduced precisely in the weaving.
Her craftsmanship is far better than Niomi’s,” said one judge and the others agreed.
“So we agree that Rhianna wins?”
“No!” shouted one of the judges. “Niomi’s  throbs with life.  Rhianna’s is very beautiful, but I feel nothing.”
An argument began among the four. Two argued that perfection and craftsmanship should prevail, the other two that the feeling evoked by Niomi’s tapestry made it the clear winner.
“By golly, I look at it and feel the sun!” one judge said. “That should mean something.”
The judges consulted the Queen. Wise woman, she decided if four experts couldn’t decide, neither would she. She awarded prizes to Rhianna and Niomi and honored them both. The tapestries remained in the Royal Museum and people still view them and argue about which one is better.

Which might you choose?

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published April 13, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Genie Trio



     The Genie Trio
         By Valerie L. Egar
            Everyone knows stories about old time genies. They lived in magic lanterns and materialized in a poof of smoke saying, “Your wish is my command” when the lantern was rubbed.
People wished for piles of gold, a castle, marriage to a prince or princess and the genie rushed to grant the wish. Mission accomplished, the genie squeezed back into the lantern to await the next call.
In those days, genies were obedient, accomplished and reliable. Ah, but that was before was before the Genie Trio, triplets named Sheban, Pharul and Rasa. Like all genies, they were gifted with the power to grant wishes, but they refused to follow genie rules and expectations.
“Why should we stuff ourselves in an old fashioned lamp no one uses anymore?” grumbled Sheban.
“People are so demanding,” complained Pharal. “They expect us to do everything for them!”
Rasa had watched enough game shows on TV to know not everyone wins prizes. “Nothing says we have to grant every wish.”
 The Genie Trio decided to make their own rules. Rule number one— the heck with adults. Kids were much more interesting. Children still believed in magic and wouldn’t take genies for granted like adults often did.
No more living in old lanterns. People expected to see a genie when they rubbed a lantern. When the genie popped out, no one was ever surprised. What fun was that?  Nope, from now on, the genies were going to burst out of backpacks and lunch bags, shoe boxes, milk cartons, whatever they wanted to.  
No more, “Your wish is my command.”  The genies had to be convinced the wish was a good idea before they moved one genie finger to get it done.
“Let’s go!” they squealed and off they went to have some fun.
Crowded into a blue backpack, the three scrambled out in a cloud of smoke when Simon unzipped his pack at the school bus stop.
“Whoa!”  Simon didn’t mean to scream, but he did. So did Allie and Tasha. The genies were unusually tall and not exactly friendly looking.
“Step right up, step up, wishes granted,” barked Sheban.
“Maybe, that is,” added Pharal. “If it’s a good one.”
Rasa threw a few genie sparkles around to make everything look more magical, but the bus stop still didn’t look like any of the TV shows she liked watching.
Allie stepped forward. “I want to be the best guitarist in the world. That’s my wish.”
 Instead of rushing off to do anything or saying, “Shazam,” or “Abracadabra” the genies asked questions.
“Do you own a guitar?” “Do you take lessons?” “Do you practice?”
“Pfft,” all three replied when they heard her answers. Yes, she had a guitar. No, she didn’t practice.
“You don’t need magic,” Pharal said. “You just need to work harder. Next!”
“I want an ‘A’ on my book report,” said Simon.
“Did you read the book?” asked Sheban.
“Kind of.”
“What’s ‘kind of’?
“I read the beginning and the end and watched the movie?”
Rasa shook her head. “No deal. We don’t write book reports.”
“You don’t need magic,” laughed Sheban. “Next time do your homework.”
Pharal pointed to Tasha. “OK, what’s your wish? And try to make it magical, OK? ‘Cause after this we’re out of here.”
“I’d like to pet a polar bear cub,” Tasha whispered.
“Yes!” Rasa yelled and in an instant she was gone and back with a sweet, cuddly cub. Tasha pet the little guy and rubbed his ears until Rasha said it was time for the cub to go back to the North Pole with his mother.




“Now that’s magic!” said Sheban and the three genies disappeared in a puff of smoke just as the school bus pulled up to take the children to school.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author. 
Published April 6, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).




Monday, April 1, 2019

Prem and His Wondrous Melons


Prem and His Wondrous Melons
                        By Valerie L. Egar

            Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a young farmer, Prem, lived at the edge of a small village. He was a cheerful man, and well liked by the townspeople.
Prem loved the earth and all its creatures. He talked to seeds as he planted them and sang to the earth as he walked on it. When he planted grain, he always planted a share for the birds. He was grateful for the sun and the rain and particularly thankful for a little patch of earth on a hillside that was perfect for growing melons.
            “Oh, what a beautiful vine you will grow to be,” he said as he planted each seed. “The fruit growing on your vine will be sweet and plentiful. I am so happy to help you grow.”
            As the vines grew, Prem tended them with great care.  He loosened the hard soil around them and fertilized them.  When weeks went by without rain, he hauled barrels of water from the river with his horse cart and watered each plant. Not one weed slipped past his sharp eye.
 When the vines flowered and the melons began to form, he talked to each one.  “How sweet you will be!” he murmured.  “Oh, what a beauty you are!”
As the melons ripened in the summer sun, Prem took them to the village market and sold them. They were fragrant and promised to be delicious. He quickly sold them all.
Those who were fortunate enough to have bought one of Prem’s melons could speak of nothing else that week. They could not describe the marvelous taste with simple words, only with comparisons. “Rainbow-flavored,” one person said.  “Spiced with the light of the morning star,” said another.
 The following week, Prem found a line of people waiting for him when he arrived with his wagon of melons. Once again, he quickly sold them all.
Word of his incredible melons continued to spread. Soon, the King heard about them. He was a greedy man and decided if the melons were so delicious, he would have all of them for himself. He sent a letter to Prem telling him he would buy every melon Prem had.
Most farmers would be happy to sell their whole crop so easily, but Prem wasn’t that kind of man. He thought of the children who would delight at a sweet bite of melon and the old women who said even a small taste made them remember long ago summers. He thought of the families carrying one of his ripe melons on a picnic and anticipating its flavor as it was sliced. If the King bought them all, no one else would have any. He didn’t want to sell all of the melons to the King.
 That night, by the light of the moon, Prem worked until each melon bore the name of a person in the town, his knife delicately piercing the skin to write the name, but not so much to cut into the sweet flesh. On and on he wrote, until dawn came. The skin would scar as the melons continued to ripen, leaving the name.
In the morning, Prem was tired, but not so tired that he didn’t go to town and spread the word about what he had done. Each of the townspeople happily paid Prem for the melon ripening in his field with his or her name. Then, Prem wrote to the King. “Dearest King,” he said. “I am afraid I do not own any melons to sell you. Each of the people on the attached list owns one melon. Perhaps you will find someone willing to sell you theirs.”
            The King immediately sent a messenger with a bag of gold to buy whatever melons he could. A few people sold theirs to the King, which was to be expected, but when their neighbors talked about the flavor of the melons from that extraordinary crop for so many years and so often it became legend, they wondered if they hadn’t missed something very special.

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                Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
                  Published May 21, 2017, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME)

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Merchant and the Vine



                                           The Merchant and the Vine
                                           By Valerie L. Egar

            A long time ago, a rich merchant, Samir, owned a store filled with wondrous objects from all over the world. Turquoise and saffron silk adorned his shop window, silver wind chimes tinkled in his doorway, gold and red lacquer boxes invited customers to take a closer look. His store was popular with people near and far and Samir grew richer and richer.
Samir dreamed of expanding his shop. Late at night, he envisioned owning the whole street. Both sides, all his! Never did he wonder where the baker might go, or where people would buy their fruits and vegetables, or how the village would manage without its tea shop. He only thought about how rich he would be.
One day a mysterious man walked through the village and stopped at Samir’s store. He fingered the soft leather slippers and admired brass candlesticks that shone in the sunlight.
            “You have a very nice shop,” said the man.
            Samir nodded. “Thank you.”
           The man reached into his pocket and took out three bright red seeds. “These are for you,” the man said. “Plant the first seed in front of your shop.  It will grow a tree taller than any around. People will see it from miles away and know where your store is.”
            “Thank you,” said Samir.
            “The second will grow a beautiful red rose bush. Plant it near your door. Its blooms will fill the air with fragrance and invite people into your shop.”
            Samir nodded. “This man is very good for my business,” he thought.
            The man handed him the third seed. “I cannot predict what this one will grow. Whatever sprouts shows what’s in your heart.”
            Once again, Samir thanked the man. He waited until the dark of the moon and planted the seeds.
            Surely they were magic, because by the end of the next day, the seeds had sprouted and matured. A tall pine, higher than the tallest building, stood in front of Samir’s shop. It was visible from hundreds of miles away and would make finding his shop easy.
            Next to his door, a bush covered with roses red as the finest rubies bloomed with a scent so pure, people would surely wander up to the front door and walk into the store.
           The third seed sprouted a vine that snaked up and down the street, knotting itself around every building, except Samir’s. Wanting to own everything up and down the street was in his heart, and that is what the vine showed.
Soon, the whole village was at Samir’s door. “Your vine is a nuisance!” the people yelled. “It covers our doors and windows, creeps into our houses and wraps itself around our tables and chairs.”
“It was twisted around my cow this morning!” yelled another. “I had to untangle her from it.”
Samir shrugged. “Trim it back. How a plant grows is how it grows.”
All day, men and women who should have been tending their stores, baking bread or serving tea chopped at vines. Only Samir’s store was open, but business was terrible, even though his new roses were inviting. People in the village were too busy working to notice them. People from far away left the village quickly when there was no place open to have a cup of tea or buy a sweet roll.
            That night, Samir spent a lot of time thinking. Maybe it was the fragrance of the roses, or the thin peel of moon shining through the tall pine, but Samir’s heart started to ease.  All the shops in the village attracted people—  if Samir’s shop were the only one, even if it was huge, few people would visit. Without the tea shop and the fruit seller, the apothecary and tailor, no one would come to the village at all.
           In the morning, the villagers awoke to find the vine no longer encircled their homes and businesses. Instead, it wove itself into a leafy canopy that arched over the street and shaded people from the hot sun. Butterflies fluttered around the hanging golden flowers.
Samir opened his shop and smiled. It was going to be a beautiful day for everyone.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 29, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).